Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Buying Time

During the early mediaeval period, centuries before the Norman conquest, our Anglo-Saxon forebears would punish homicide or serious injury one of two ways: either with blood revenge or by the payment of wergeld , or "man money" to the family or clan of the murdered or maimed victim.

Now it seems that wergeld has been revived in Ontario:

Victims of crime claimed victory amid cries of chequebook justice from critics Wednesday as an Ontario court endorsed a plea bargain that gives a woman $2 million from the men convicted of shattering her spine with a would-be assassin’s bullet.
The controversial deal, approved by Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, was designed to provide restitution to Louise Russo, who faces a lifelong struggle after she was gunned down in a drive-by shooting at a Toronto sandwich shop two years ago.

Bryant was defiant as he insisted the promise of cash had no impact on the sentences doled out by Superior Court Justice David Watt to the five men who pleaded guilty to various charges, including conspiracy to commit murder.


As part of Wednesday’s agreement, Antonio Borrelli, the man who pulled the trigger, was sentenced 12 years in prison, while Paris Christoforou, Mark Peretz and Peter Scarcella were each sentenced to 11 years behind bars.

With time already served taken into account, Borrelli faces 10 years behind bars, and the three co-accused nine years each.

Filippo Cutulle — who was not involved in the shooting, but charged in connection with subsequent crimes with the co-accused — was sentenced to three years behind bars, which amounts to 17 months when time served is taken into account.

We all naturally have sympathy for Louise Russo's plight. The criminals who left her paralyzed for life should be held both criminally and financially responsible.

But the criminal justice system cannot properly be engaged in the realm of tort. The crime committed against Louise Russo was not just committed against her, but against the Crown--by extension, the whole of Canadian society. Confusing the two systems--one to punish offences against the people and state, the other to compensate personal loss and injury--will inevitably lead to attempts to treat tort law as adjunct of the criminal law.

Tort law need only concern itself with apportioning liability for an injury done by one person to another. Liability need only be established on the balance of probabilities, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, since it does not put the tortfeasor's life and liberty in jeopardy.

But Louise Russo's injury is not just a private economic loss, but a crime committed against society. Permitting even the perception of being able to buy one's way out of prison time trivializes both the personal injury and the crime.

Let her be compensated, by all means. But in civil action, not criminal trial.

Source: Toronto Star


Anonymous said...

Dalton McLiar's Liberal flunkies say that the payment will have no impact on sentencing. So the Mafia just gave this lady $2 million bucks out of the goodness of their hearts, sweet. The Mafia always gives away money for absolutely nothing in return - yeah, right - anyone dumb enough to believe that is probably dumb enough to vote Liberal. And that's dumb!

Jim said...

It seems the first casualty of blogging is research.

The courts have always been able to award restitution to the victim. It comes on top of whatever punishment is given to the criminal. It is rarely done only because criminals are usually unable to pay damages, being the incompetent idiots they are.

In my own case, my house was broken into. The thieves were caught but had disposed of most the stolen goods. The insurance company obtained a restitution order as part of the prosecution with me getting any amount over the insrance payment that was recovered.

Loyalist said...

I'm well aware of restitution orders in criminal courts and the fact that they don't offend against the principles of criminal justice.

What I don't like is the appearance of buying one's way to a lesser sentence, and of confusing the ends of criminal justice and tort law in the process.